Lives in the Balance: First Steps

[audio]Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

It's time again for New Year's Resolutions. Do you make them? Did you make them this year? Did any of them include God? Church? Prayer?

We're starting a new series of conversations this week around the topic "Lives in the Balance." There are so many things that compete for our time: work and school, family and community commitments, financial pressures and political anxieties. We're pulled in so many different directions. And given that, we need to try and keep a healthy balance.

My suggestion for the first step in getting that healthy balance is being sure of where we are rooted. We need to create time and space for God in our lives. If we don't, then we are tempted to think that everything rests on our shoulders. And when we get to that point, we set ourselves up for failure. Carrying the world around means we will collapse.

The Luke text, I think, gives some indication of this need for rootedness. You've got John the Baptist, my favorite dramatic Biblical character, out in the wilderness. He's calling people to repentance (literally "facing again", or returning to God) and offering a baptism to match. The buzz around him is intense; so much so that people are beginning to wonder if he's that Messiah they've been waiting for. He dispels that, lets them know that he's only laying the groundwork for the stuff that's coming, and that this Messiah is far beyond John. Can't even touch this guy's laces, that's how awesome he is.

Then Jesus appears suddenly, and who baptizes him? The same guy who was worried about touching his shoes! Shouldn't Jesus be the one baptizing John? Talk about an intimidating baptism gig! But I think there's one simple reason why Jesus begins his ministry by submitting to John's baptism: as he's heading off into this ministry, these years of preaching, teaching, and healing, the crucifixion and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem, he wants to be sure that he knows where it is that he's rooted. He is grounded in the God of love, as symbolized by this ritual of baptism.

Do you remember your own baptism? We Presbyterians practice infant baptism, which means if you were born and raised in a Presbyterian church, you probably don't. My own story, which some of you have heard before, is that I was baptized long before I remembered much of anything. My parents made that promise on my behalf. But what I do remember is when my sister was baptized. I was about four years old, and when the pastor asked the congregation to raise their right hand as a sign that they would raise my little tiny sister as a Christian, I wanted to raise my hand, too. My mom was holding that hand, and simply thought that I was trying to get away to cause some mischief. But I broke free and joined the rest of the congregation in pledging that support for her.

I don't remember my own baptism. But the point is that there were so many there who promised to remember it for me. And they made good on their promise, telling me the stories of salvation again and again until I made them my own. It's that public commitment in our practice of baptism that's so important: not only for the one being baptized, but also for everyone there who is making a promise on their behalf. And it's this communal memory, whether or not we may actually remember our own baptism, which is so crucial.

It reminds me of Martin Luther, the great reformer, who had his many moments of doubt as he stood up to the excesses of the church at that time. And when he felt beaten down and surrounded, it was this simple mantra that held him firm: "I am baptized." Not "I was baptized," but "I am baptized." It has happened already, but my life remains changed as a result. I have been made clean. Not, "I won't screw up again" - in fact, the opposite is probably more true. I will mess up. But I am in a relationship with one, The One, who is more committed to reconciliation and forgiveness than I can ever be. There's nothing magic about the water. It's just to two hydrogens and an oxygen. But it's the sign of what it means as we follow in Jesus footsteps in the River Jordan.

My invitation is to recommit yourself to your baptism. And if you've never been baptized, to consider it for the first time. Remind yourselves of that baptism, and what it means, to be held in that profound love of God's healing mercy. And even if you're not usually in the habit of New Year's Resolutions, consider making one this year to get rooted again - or, for the first time - in God and God's desires. In other words, make time for God. God's got all the time in the world for you.